“HOLLYWOOD is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul,” Marilyn Monroe once said.
Since the Weinstein scandal broke last month, revelations involving the sexual misconduct of numerous powerful men have rocked Tinseltown: All eyes are on how Hollywood treats, and mistreats, women.
There’s never been a more pertinent time to revisit Sunset Boulevard, specifically, the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 film of the same name.
It’s about what Hollywood does to women. Delusional, reclusive and aging former silent movie star, Norma Desmond, longing for a return to fame and fortune, becomes infatuated with aspiring screenwriter, Joe Gillis. An ill-fated love triangle forms, as impoverished Joe relies financially on Norma, while falling in love with talented young script-doctor, Betty Schaefer. Betty is struggling to fulfil her ambitions in a male-dominated industry.
“I always call her bad-ass Betty,” says Cork actress and singer, Molly Lynch, who plays the younger woman in Curve Theatre’s production of the musical, which is touring the UK and Ireland.
“Even though it’s set in the late 1940s, she’s a really modern woman, and I love playing her. She drives a lot of the passion in the story, and it’s quite clear that she’s the brains behind the operation,” she says.
Lynch sees Sunset Boulevard as a tale of two women, but a cautionary one.
“In the world of the arts, you can get lost in the fame side and your own ego,” Lynch says. “For me, Betty offers the real reason to work in show business, while Norma gets lost in the glamour and false love of it. Betty is a purist and has found her real motivation to do it; despite all the faff that goes with Hollywood, Betty loves the core of it. I can identify with that.”
The 26-year-old, from Douglas, having starred in several large Irish panto productions, moved to London three years ago for an MA in music theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She made her professional West End debut in Sweeney Todd, starring Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfl, just over a year later.
Her career is both in its infancy and showing promise, more Betty than Norma. Yet the Cork School of Music graduate says she can also empathise with Norma, played to critical acclaim by veteran West End actress and singer, Ria Jones, 50.
“Norma, as a woman in Hollywood, loses all appeal when she reaches a certain age,” Lynch says. “She’s a really complicated character, and she does things that seem so ridiculous, and yet you understand her. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about the story. You identify with what is, in some ways, a really, really terrible character, but she misses the love and attention and glory of her heyday.”
This production, directed by Nikolai Foster, started touring in September, before the Weinstein scandal, but Lynch says it has been influenced by Hollywood’s subsequent soul-searching about sexism.
“It’s definitely feeding into the show,” she says. “The story is about being a woman in Hollywood and that’s so, so relevant now. Every line, I’m noticing the sexism; my character is working in an office and her boss is really disrespectful to her and dismissive.”
With Irish theatre also being rocked by a scandal of its own, as The Gate investigates allegations of inappropriate behaviour by former artistic director Michael Colgan, Lynch says the spate of revelations is positive, although she herself hasn’t “experienced any more than a woman in an office or any other workplace”.
“I think what we’re having now is an uncomfortable period where everyone’s on edge,” she says. “Men are watching everything they’re saying; women are rethinking things that have happened to them in their lives. As uncomfortable as it is, I think it’s an important transitional period. Hopefully, we’ll come out the other end with definite lines drawn, and a new standard.”